Latvia’s triple world champion Diana Dadzite joins World Para Athletics’ ‘Ones to Watch’ list for 2018 after a terrific season last year. The 32-year-old won three gold medals at London 2017 – the most successful Para field athlete at the World Championships.
In the first of this year’s ‘How I Got Into…’ series, Dadzite reveals how her Para athletics career began.
Diana Dadzite remembers the Lyon 2013 World Championships well. But there was no gold medal, no national anthem, not even a podium finish – in fact, she did not even take part.
The Latvian was in the French city as a spectator, watching her good friend and countryman Aigars Apinis compete.
It was a worthwhile trip – Apinis won shot put F52/53 gold with a new world record, as well as bronze in the discus F51/52/53, with another world record throw.
But it was also a memorable trip for another reason – it was where Dadzite’s Para athletics career first took seed.
“It was my holidays and I was thinking, why not watch a little bit there,” explained the 32-year-old, who suffered an injury to her spinal cord in a car accident in 2012.
“My friend Aigars was competing in the shot put and discus and I was supporting him there. I was in Lyon with my Paralympic committee – but only to watch.”
But Latvia’s coaching team spotted Dadzite and believed she had what it took to compete.
“Some coaches from Latvia saw that my hands were really strong and they said ‘Come on, we will go to the stadium and try to throw the javelin.’ I said ‘No, no, leave me alone, I don’t want to do it,’” said Dadzite.
But the coaches didn’t give up and after a few days Dadzite relented.
Down at the track Dadzite threw the javelin and was immediately told she had a talent. But she was not won over yet.
“I said that it’s not for me and I left it at that,” added the Latvian, who, although active as a youngster – among various sports she tried volleyball and ice hockey – had never taken part in throwing events.
“I was not thinking about that. Then in 2014 my Paralympic Committee called me and told me I needed to go to competitions. I started in May that year, throwing the javelin.”
Classified as an F55 thrower, Dadzite added the discus and shot put the following year, but javelin remains her favourite event.
“In the shot put and discus you need a lot of technique – you also need to work hard on your balance because our class doesn’t have such good balance – our upper body is maybe strong but you don’t have leg or stomach muscles.
“I take the javelin in my hand and I feel like I can fly with it together. For me it’s the easiest.”
Dadzite’s first major competition was the 2014 European Championships in Swansea, Great Britain, where she finished fourth. She finished out of the medals at the Doha 2015 World Championships too, but all that changed in 2016, when she got together with a new coach – German Siegfried Wegener.
The pair have now been working together for two years – Dadzite commutes to Germany from her home in Latvia to train under Wegener’s guidance, spending around half the year away from her family. Despite the frequent travel involved, it’s clearly a set up that works well.
“[Wegener] put in a lot of new stuff and that’s why step by step I was improving,” said Dadzite, who went on to win gold, silver and bronze at the Grosseto 2016 European Championships before heading to her first ever Paralympic Games in Brazil, where she carried the Latvian flag at the opening ceremony.
“In Rio I was aiming for the gold medal – that was my dream. Of course, my biggest dream was to beat the world record which had stood for nearly 20 years. We did, and I was really, really happy.”
The Riga-born Para athlete won Paralympic gold in the javelin F56 with a throw of 23.26m – adding 55 centimetres on to German Martina Willing’s F55 world record which had stood for an incredible 17 years.
But progress means everything to Dadzite, so it was no surprise when she surpassed that mark less than a year later at London 2017, throwing 27.07m.
“I won in London but I don’t want to stop there,” said Dadzite, who also won discus and shot put world gold.
“My dream is the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics and to show that I am not standing still. I want to keep moving forwards; to keep getting better as a thrower.”